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Top 5 Legal Lies From 'HTGAWM' S1 E14, 15 (Season Finale)

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on February 27, 2015 1:32 PM

"How To Get Away With Murder," our favorite legal soap opera/murder show, ended its first season with quite a bang last night, promising an equally interesting second season. Most of the mysteries -- who killed Lila, what happened to Rudy Walters, and what the deal is with Rebecca -- were answered, but the season ended on a brand-new mystery that will take us into Season 2.

Though only the first of this two-part finale had much to do with the law, it naturally got some of the points wrong.

#HTGAWM in 140 Characters: Kidnapping works pretty well, right? Rebecca didn't do it, after all. But everyone was so busy lying, they didn't notice Rebecca ran away.

1. Changing Your Guilty Plea.

Keep in mind that Father Andrew wants to change his plea from guilty to not guilty at the sentencing hearing, which means the court already found him guilty. It's probably too late to go back now. Guilty pleas can only be reversed if they're not "knowing and voluntary," and given that Father Andrew was pressured into one, he has a fair chance of succeeding. Procedurally, though, if he wants to get his sentence reversed based on ineffective assistance of counsel, he'll have to do that on appeal.

2. A Defense Attorney 'Lies' to the Jury About Her Client's Innocence.

Not really. Defense attorneys can't lie to a jury about law or facts, but a defendant doesn't claim, "My client didn't do it"; she claims that the prosecution hasn't proven its case. Defense attorneys are expected to require the prosecutor to prove every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Remember: It's the prosecutor's job to prove that the defendant is guilty, not the defendant's job to prove that he's innocent. The defense attorney is there to hold the prosecutor to that standard.

3. The Priest/Penitent Privilege.

This issue creates the major dilemma in this episode's legal drama: Father Bernard confesses to Father Andrew that he (Father B) molested a child. This means that Father A can't testify to what Father B said in court, right?

Maybe. Clergymen can refuse to testify to what parishioners (or anyone else) tell them in their capacity as a member of the clergy in states that recognize the privilege. The person who confessed to the priest, though, can waive the privilege. Unfortunately, Father B is dead and can't really do that, but his death isn't a complete bar to admitting the statements: His personal representative would have to assert the privilege in court.

4. The Judge Has to Recuse Herself Because of a Conflict of Interest.

Bonnie sets up a conversation between the judge presiding over Detective Lahey's bail hearing and "OITNB" Guy. Frank takes photos to make it look like they're having a grand old time, creating a conflict of interest between Asher (who's on Annalise's team) and the judge, who eventually recuses herself.

But that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Annalise and her team aren't Lahey's lawyers, but Lahey's own lawyer says that because Asher works with Annalise, and Annalise blamed Lahey for Sam's murder, that's a "clear" conflict of interest. It might or might not be, but it's not "clear" at all. That's why we have hearings for this sort of thing. No way would a judge recuse herself just because of a photograph and a really thin connection to the defendant. (Also, because Lahey is accused of murder, it's not likely that he'd be released on bail by the replacement judge.)

5. Michaela Gets to Keep the Engagement Ring as a 'Gift.'

Michaela insists that she gets to keep her engagement ring even though the wedding's off. That's not so cut-and-dry, though. Different states disagree on whether an engagement ring is an outright gift that a woman can keep no matter what, or a conditional gift that becomes effective once the couple gets married.

Fault factors into it too: Michaela might get to keep the ring because Aiden broke off the wedding, but this is all unclear (and it would never go to court anyway; Michaela is using her knowledge that Aiden is secretly gay as leverage to keep the ring, anyway).

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